Michelle Shin / Sun Contributor

March 27, 2017

Ten Forward Cafe: An Honest Review of Ithaca’s First Vegan Cafe

Print More

Ithaca’s first vegan café, Ten Forward, celebrated its opening with a launch party on Saturday. The new café is located at 115 East State Street, on the second floor of the Autumn Leaves bookstore on the Commons. The café will be open for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

This café was opened by Tammie Olefski, owner and founder of Star Truck, a food truck in Ithaca that offers plant-based comfort food. Although I did not get a chance to talk with her personally, it seemed clear to me that this café serves as an extension of her philosophy with Star Truck: offer food that is affordable, plant-based, local and memorable.

As a transitioning vegan, I was interested in the fact that this was Ithaca’s very first vegan café and decided to check it out with my friend. We got there two hours into the opening, and the café was bustling with customers ranging from college students to elementary school kids to elderly Ithacans. Although the space was small and had limited seating, it seemed to welcome every member of the Ithaca community.

The staff was very friendly and hard at work, remaining at ease and enthusiastic while hustling through the endless orders.  The café had a hipster vibe with a display of comic book collections and unique names for their bakery items, from Magic Bites to Captain’s Cupcake. Their featured Facebook logo is a chocolate chip cookie floating in a galaxy. As a part of the launch party, there was a raffle for the customers, with prizes ranging from Star Trek books to a collector’s edition of the StarLog poster magazine.

The menu itself was extensive, and everything was very customizable. You could build your own sandwich, wrap, salad or rice bowl with a plethora of options. They offered racked wheat, multigrain and rye for their breads. Protein options included Susie’s Seitan, Tofurky and Ithaca hummus. What’s more, there were also various fresh and pickled vegetable toppings and unique spreads like chili garlic mayo and creamy curry. They also offered many baked goods and coffee from Forty Weight Coffee Roasters.

Because I had dinner plans, I decided to get something light as my pre-dinner appetizer. Nearly everyone seemed to be sipping on a build-your-own banana-based milkshake, so I ordered a banana smoothie with every ingredient offered: cocoa powder, chia seeds, peanut butter, cinnamon, pumpkin and pea protein. I was going to leave it there, but the display of bakery items got ahold of me. I ended up ordering a lemon-raspberry bite, a Captain’s Cupcake and, why not, an earl grey latte, too. The total came out to a little under $15. The prices seemed reasonable, similar to the prices at other local coffee shops like Collegetown Bagels and Gimme! Coffee.

My order came out within minutes, and I quickly grabbed one of the limited seats before they all filled up again. I was excited to try out beverages and baked goods that were 100% vegan. It was one of the few times I felt at ease knowing that I won’t get an upset stomach from indulging in such drinks and bakery items that tend to be concentrated with dairy.

Before diving straight into my review of the foods, I do want to note that I am a very critical and picky foodie. I don’t believe in Yelp reviews, because they always end up disappointing me. I also am very skeptical of restaurants and foods that are hyped up. So perhaps, you might be surprised by what I have to say about this café.

Earl Grey Latte

First up, the earl grey latte. Honestly, I was immediately disappointed by its presentation. I have had my share of lattes, and because this was a more “hip” café, I thought the baristas would put more care into latte art. I also thought I would get a more high-end steeped loose-leaf tea. Instead, what I got was a cup of Numi Tea’s Aged Earl Grey with a thin layer of soy milk foam. But I value taste over presentation, so I remained on the fence. After my first sip, however, I knew I would not order the drink again. I don’t know what I was expecting, but it tasted like a watered-down earl grey tea with a tasteless foam on top. I would rather spend the money to buy myself a box of earl grey tea and steep it in heated soy milk myself.

Next up was the custom-built, banana-based smoothie that everyone was drinking. I don’t know if I just combined too many ingredients together, but it was a challenge to finish the drink. It was very thick and the peanut butter was so overpowering that I could not taste the cocoa powder, chia seeds, cinnamon, pumpkin or pea protein. I am usually good at distinguishing the various flavors in my smoothies or foods, but I could not taste anything other than a liquified version of a standard peanut butter banana sandwich. So if you don’t like banana, definitely stay away. And if you aren’t a huge peanut butter fan, don’t bother including the peanut butter when ordering your smoothie. But I do have to say that I appreciate how they stay true to the ingredients — the smoothie was not too sweet because they do not add sugar or its alternatives, and they blend it well so that you’re not gagging from forcing raw chia seeds down your throat.

“Captain’s cupcake” had a flavor I couldn’t quite figure out. The base cake of the cupcake was flavorless. It didn’t even have a grainy, wheaty flavor; it was really just bland. But it was perfectly moist and dense without the overpowering sweetness in most cupcakes found in grocery stores. The sugar frosting on top had a slightly tangy taste, but I wasn’t the biggest fan of its synthetic flavor. The lemon-raspberry bar was exactly as it stated. It had a yellow, lemon jello-like layer on the top, followed by a red raspberry layer and a buttery (probably margarine) graham cracker crust on the bottom. I could not taste the raspberry, but I did not mind the tang of lemon at the end of each bite. Pretty standard.

Although I did not try the sandwiches, salads and other food options they offer, based on the couple of items I did try, I was not that impressed. It was more of a standard café you could find elsewhere. Granted, I did like the vibe and enthusiasm of the staff, and I support their mission to offer a communal space while also offering wholesome, plant-based comfort food. I hope this sheds light to a more critical view of the café rather than the over-the-top hyped reviews that stem from the fact that this is Ithaca’s very first vegan café. If you’re not convinced by my review, go try it out! I believe it is worth at least exploring this new landmark in Ithaca. And I will be back for to try out the rice bowl next time.

Serves: coffee, baked goods, sandwiches, light vegan fare

Vibe: a casual, hip café

Price: $

Overall: ★★★☆☆

  • Reality Check

    Since when is it reasonable to review a new restaurant two hours into its opening day? And then she complains that the shake is too thick after ordering all the available add-ins.

    No wonder The Sun doesn’t get much restaurant advertising.

    • Baeyonce

      Restaurants don’t get a grace period after opening to become a good restaurant….if it’s not a good restaurant by the time it opens then its owners probably shouldn’t have opened it yet…..

      And if they let you add as many add-ins as you want then they still have to provide a quality shake.

  • gaga for garbage nachos

    If you missed out on Ten Forward’s cinnamon bun, you missed out on the best thing ever, just FYI. That lemon raspberry bar with the shortbread base was quite delicious, too (I’ve got to figure out how to make it!). I really admire Tammie’s drive to create a welcoming space with a healthy, all-vegan menu, and I’ll definitely be stopping by for her community events and nom baked goods. That said, I can’t wait for Star Truck to be open for the season because I really need me some garbage nachos!

  • Ithaca Food Lover

    This “review” and its horrid headline are an embarrassment. The writer’s inexperience as gourmand and critic would be laughable if she didn’t do harm to a hardworking young entrepreneur. First of all, ordering every item on the shake menu and then proceeding to complain that the flavors are indistinguishable is absurd. Her lack of knowledge of vegan food should have made the Daily Sum choose to send a different reviewer. Next time send someone who can actually try the main menu items.

  • Sammy

    I’m an alum and just happened to be browsing the site for hockey results from the playoffs. I like the reviewer’s personal tone, but as a restaurant review this piece is an embarrassment to the Sun. It reads almost like like satire parodying restaurant review columns:
    – Ordered a shake with every single item? Seriously, does that make any sense? I laughed out loud then I read it. Would you go to the Hot Truck and order every single available topping on the same po boy in order to evaluate the food? Would you go to an ice cream parlor and order every single possible topping when evaluating your ice cream?
    – Didn’t even try the meals and reviewed only their pastries?

    Has Cornell let down its admissions standards in recent years. Is the Sun just not getting a lot of talent because other media like Snapchat are where students focus their attention and newspapers are an anachronism? Why publish this absurd review? I’m an entrepreneur and — even though I’ll super-biased in favor of Cornell students — my heart really went out to the local entrepreneur who was the victim of this brainless review. Before you trash a local business, at least have the courtesy to do things like actually trying the food and not ordering like a complete moron (e.g., ask them for recommended shake combos since your own sense of taste seems completely lacking).

  • 45 Years A Vegetarian

    I hope that Cornell is teaching at least some of the student body good critical thinking skills, and few will take this neophyte “journalist” and wannabe vegan seriously. This review was ridiculous. No restaurant reviewer would ever come in during the first two hours that a place were open if they were interested in writing up anything other than a nasty slam. This is real-life…not some theoretical model of a restaurant, and certainly there are kinks to work out the first day. Fortunately, the rest of the enthusiastic attendees who want to support and encourage this new cafe will likely be around town for a lot longer than the reviewer herself, and will have the pleasure of enjoying satisfying and healthy meals, and good company, at Ten Forward Cafe. BTW, the reviewer got it wrong from the first sentence, even. This is not actually the first vegan cafe ever in town. I hope that The Sun will take down Shin’s review, or at least figure out how to put a more representative pull quote than “Although I did not try the sandwiches, salads and other food options they offer, based on the couple of items I did try, I was not that impressed.” Why damn a great new business just because an inexperienced and snarky reviewer showed up?

  • Lexander

    I could not be more disappointed in the writer of this review. 1) this is a small town and you’re basically the most read paper in town. You wield amazing power and don’t seem to grasp the role you could play here. This is a place where jobs are at stake, blood sweat and tears went into this business. 2) since when is doing a review of a restraunt legit when you only got a tea and a shake. Honestly? This reads more like a lousy onion article. 3) the editor in chief should have read the line, “I had other dinner plans” and then struck the entire article. Nothing speaks of “filling space” more than this. 4) the Sun owes the place an apology and a full review of a full meal by another writer after the place opens.

  • A Real Vegan

    Terrible photo choices and rambling amateurish blog post…errr I mean “newspaper article”. Food critics don’t review restaurants on the first night. Why would the reviewer go when she’s on her way to eat at another restaurant? Even if that was the case, she should have ordered items the staff recommends and just had a few bites. That’s what food critics do.

    We’re so lucky to have Star Truck in town and now Ten Forward. I just hope this messy write-up that focuses more on the writer than on the actual subject matter doesn’t harm this important local small business.

  • Nagarjuna

    As soon as I read “Because I had dinner plans …” I knew this wasn’t a serious review.

    You order a smoothie with every possible add-in and then complain that it’s too thick? Including peanut butter, pea protein, and chia … and you’re surprised it’s really thick? “I don’t know if I just combined too many ingredients together” … umm, ya think? Listen, just ask anybody who knows what those things are and they’ll be able to explain this to you.

    “Although I did not try the sandwiches, salads and other food options they offer, based on the couple of items I did try, I was not that impressed”.
    You cannot be bothered to actually try anything on the menu except one drink, two pastries, and a ridiculous shake that they were nice enough to make according to your ill-conceived instructions. You don’t actually try anything else because you don’t want your “honest review” to spoil your other more interesting dinner plans. And then on the basis of that in-depth fieldwork you go public dumping on the place? If the place isn’t all that great, it’s completely appropriate to say so. But how would you know?

    I wonder if your professors just read one or two paragraphs from your papers and then assign you a grade without bothering to read the rest? Maybe because they already have other things they are more interested in reading and so don’t want to waste too much effort actually looking at your work before judging you? That’s totally appropriate, right? I bet you’d file an academic grievance anyway. But you might want to consider that this irresponsible, demiposteriored review of yours is now out there, published on the internet, and people who might make decisions about your future prospects might make those decisions based just on this. I hope for your sake that doesn’t happen, but if it does, there are those who might call that karma.

    So this is journalism at Cornell these days, huh? Wow.

  • LatteDrinker

    Latte art is impossible with tea. Latte art requires contrast between the brown thick crema of an espresso and the white milk, earl grey tea has no thick crema to provide that contrast. But otherwise kudos for not being afraid to offer some criticism to yet another mediocre Ithaca restaurant.

  • Elizabeth Cherry

    Ten Forward is NOT the first vegan cafe in Ithaca. It may be the only one operating in the last couple of years, but I have been to two of the previous ones. They don’t seem to last very long.